(For a news source that requires a username and password, use "thelofty" for both.)
(* means blog has been updated recently)
The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
Polyarchy by Robert Dahl
The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen
Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
The NAACP's Political Capital
Last week's display by the NAACP in Miami was disgraceful. Instead of recognizing that scheduling conflicts do indeed exist, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume made his organization look ridiculous with arrogant, self-inflating rhetoric. He declared that the political capital of the three candidates who couldn't show up to the convention, Joe Lieberman, Dennis Kucinich, and Dick Gephardt was "now equivalent of Confederate dollars." That's just unnecessary and certainly won't help the organization gain any more legitimacy with the public. To expect that all the candidates will simply drop their previous commitments in order to pay homage to one interest group is just outlandish. The New Republic has the perfect biting response to Mfume's over-the-top display. It's well worth the read:
"Who knew that the litmus test for a presidential aspirant seeking African-American support these days wasn't his record on civil rights or affirmative action or racial profiling or crime or poverty or the obscene disparity in the way drug-sentencing laws get applied to black and white offenders, but whether or not he shows his face at some entirely symbolic, ridiculously unenlightening candidate forum organized by a single activist group? Hell, if George W. had realized that a quick trip to Miami was all it took to gain street cred with black voters, he likely would have showed up, mouthed a few meaningless platitudes, and then high-tailed it back home in time for Letterman."
Mfume went over the line and in the end it could end up biting him and his organization quite hard. Beyond a day or two of bad press, the three candidates won't suffer as a result Mfume's name-calling - their records on African-American issues speak for themselves. However, were Gephardt, Lieberman or Kucinich to become the Democratic nominee, I wouldn't expect Mfume and his organization to have the seat at the table that they otherwise would deserve. Mfume traded a one-time stab for a future of political uncertainty. At this point, if I were Mfume, I'd be campaigning like crazy for Edwards, Kerry and Dean.
As you can probably guess, I'm not a big fan of Howard Dean. He's a bit too left for my liking, but his 16 Questions for President Bush couldn't be more on target. Bush needs to answer all 16 of these questions now if he wants to maintain any semblance of credibility with the American people.
Yesterday an unnamed senior official had press availability in which he seemingly admitted the incompetence of the administration. The White House also released part of a classified report - only eight pages of a 90 page report, mind you - in order to calm the storm that has erupted over the faith-based intelligence practices of the administration.
"President Bush and his national security adviser did not entirely read the most authoritative prewar assessment of U.S. intelligence on Iraq, including a State Department claim that an allegation Bush would later use in his State of the Union address was "highly dubious," White House officials said yesterday."
Despite being more or less inoculated from being shocked by ineptitude like this from the Bush White House, I was nevertheless amazed that our leaders don't even read the reports that make or break their reasoning for war. Stunning.
In addition to claiming that Iraq could have nuclear materials within a decade (not six months as Cheney has fear-mongered us into believing), the declassified report also showed a lack of substancial evidence for the administration's other claim that Iraq was seeking nuclear capabilities.
"According to the NIE, a consensus document based on the work of six agencies, both the Energy Department, which is responsible for watching foreign nuclear programs, and the State Department disagreed with another allegation, voiced by Bush, that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were for a nuclear weapons program."
So even the aluminum tubes argument wasn't completely true either? Seeing as the nuclear claims were based on alluminum tubes and African yellowcake, it seems as though there was no reason to claim an imminent threat. Hmm.
"The State Department's intelligence arm (INR) also offered a caustic criticism of the controversial claim, raised by Bush in his State of the Union address, that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Africa. "(T)he claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are, in INR's assessment, highly dubious."
Highly dubious! Maybe someone should have read that part!
"A senior administration official who briefed reporters yesterday said neither Bush nor national security adviser Condoleezza Rice read the NIE in its entirety."
"The president was comfortable at the time, based on the information that was provided in his speech," the official said of the decision to use it in the address to Congress. "The president of the United States is not a fact-checker."
We knew that of course. I would expect nothing more. But shouldn't someone have read it all? Someone like the National Security Advisor? Is anyone paying attention to reality in this administration?
"The senior official, who fielded questions for 75 minutes in the White House briefing room, presented a version of events leading up to Bush's State of the Union address that contradicted testimony given to the Senate intelligence committee this week by CIA officials. The official said that while the CIA successfully removed a specific allegation from an October Bush speech, that Iraq had sought 500 tons of "yellowcake" uranium ore in Niger, the CIA raised no objection to any statement about uranium in Africa in the State of the Union speech."
The only way this is acceptable is if something changed between October and January, and of course nothing of the sort has been presented. First off the CIA has said that it advised the White House that the statement wasn't credible, and second, why should there be any change in the CIA's uncomfortableness with the claim if nothing had changed in the meantime? The CIA shouldn't have to stand around babysitting White House officials for every speech to make sure they don't try to slip it in and then claim "you didn't tell us we couldn't use it in this speech." Plus, even so, it's the State of the Union! Check, recheck and check again!
"The official said that in the drafting of Bush's January speech, aides decided to attribute the uranium allegation to British intelligence because of a "stylistic" decision to provide sources for several allegations, "to make the speech more credible."
The fact that these claims wouldn't be credible on their own should raise a red flag immediately. It wasn't a "stylistic" decision, it was an attempt to make the verifiable verb be, "The British government has learned," instead of the actual substance of the sentence, "Saddam Hussein recently sought." It's deception at it's best, and deceit carried the day and led the country to war on false pretenses.
James Madison would be ashamed. Even the Washington Post called it, "a low point in the history of congressional comity."
Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee decided that it was time to ignore the fact that they rule only by a narrow majority and decided that they would act as if they had been unanimously elected. They attempted to rush a pension bill through the committee despite the fact that Democrats had not been given sufficient time to actually read the bill. The Democrats on the committee protested, were ignored, and left in protest. They left behind a single member, Rep. Pete Stark of California, to keep an eye on the proceedings and to prevent Republicans from ending the reading of the bill by a unanimous vote which would be required. Instead of allowing for the reading to continue, Chairman Bill Thomas decided that unanimity was a subjective term and declared the session over, despite the lack of a unanimous vote.
What happened next was what should make every American worry: Thomas called the police to take care of the Democratic dissenters who had left in disgust. What a frightening abuse of power. When Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for censure on Rep. Thomas on the House floor, her call for an explanation was left with no answer and was tabled, never to be seen again.
It's truly troubling how Republicans act as if their slight majority gives them a mandate from all Americans, while this couldn't be further from the truth. The same goes with President Bush. He didn't even get the most votes, yet he rules, yes rules, as if he had pulled in a victory of Saddam proportions! Tyranny of the majority indeed.
"A body found Friday in central England has been tentatively identified as a missing Ministry of Defense adviser suspected as the source of allegations that the government doctored a report about Iraq's nuclear program.
"Kelly, a 59-year-old former U.N. weapons inspector, was at the center of a political storm over allegations that Blair's office altered intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons programs to support the decision to join the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The government denies the claim.
"The Ministry of Defense said Kelly may have been the source for a British Broadcasting Corp. report that Blair aides gave undue prominence to a claim that Iraq could launch chemical or biological weapons on 45 minutes' notice."
Is this what dissent gets you these days? Frightening.
"We know in the 1980s that Iraq purchased from Niger over 270 tons of uranium, and therefore it is not beyond the bounds of possibility - let's at least put it like this - that they went back to Niger again. That is why I stand by entirely the statement that was made in the September dossier."
That's the entire motivation for the claim? I'm astounded that this type of logic carries the day at 10 Downing. It's simply unbelievable. It's turning out that claim after claim, from both Bush and Blair, have been based on nothing more than faith. Much of my support for action against Iraq was rooted in my belief in Blair. I didn't necessarily believe Bush's claims about weapons, but I went along with it because I believed Blair was an honest, trustworthy, fact-based leader. When did he become as thoughtless as his American counterpart?
I'm astounded that he would base a claim on nothing more than idle hope. Tony, I thought you were better than that.
***UPDATE*** You'll notice that I still have Blair as a "Yes" on the "Yes/No" column. That's because, despite his lockstep with Bush, unlike Bush his motives, I think, were genuine when it comes to humanitarian intervention. I feel that on his list of reasons for war, "doing the right thing" was high in his mind. His was a genuine empathy for the Iraqi people, it wasn't the 8th thing down the list like I suspect it is for Bush. And plus, that speech he just gave to the joint session of Congress again made me wish he was our leader. Something is wrong with our choice of leaders when a foreign prime minister can come into the heart of our government and convey his message better than our own president can.
Yes, we finally found a weapon of mass destruction, but it's not in Iraq. It's coming out of the White House Budget office. It's our new national debt:
"The federal government will pile up $1.9 trillion in new debt over the next five years and will still be running an annual deficit of $226 billion by 2008, long after White House economists assume current war costs will have subsided and the economy will have recovered, the Bush administration projected yesterday."
$1.9 TRILLION. It's not monopoly money people. $1.9 trillion in new debt is substantial when put incontext of what our debt already is. It is a ton of debt that we simply can't afford. What bothers me most about it though, is that that huge figure will only get larger because it's based on assumptions that just won't ever come true.
It assumes the costs of rebuilding Iraq will decrease, which will only happen after we have increased our presence there and made it secure. The only way our costs would go down in Iraq is if we get out as fast as we can and leave the country in shambles. I was glad to see that Rumsfeld finally acknowledged that our presence in Iraq is too thin to provide for full security, but with the way we went into war, it only means we have to do it all ourselves. He may say we have all these allies, but look at the makeup of the troops on the ground: overwhelmingly American with a few Britons and a handful of Poles and Aussies. That's not a force we could leave and know that things would still be alright. We've pissed off the allies we need and are now stuck having to leave the 3rd Infantry in Iraq longer than they should be. Our costs in Iraq will only get larger.
Then there's the "stimulative" tax cut. This has been argued repeatedly so I won't rehash the absurdity of thinking a tax cut for the rich will provide economic stimulus, but draining the government of money when we're at war is possibly the worst idea I've ever heard. During war you ask for sacrifice, you don't give ineffectual tax cuts. It's frightening that this enormous new debt is based on only the rosiest predictions. What happens when the war costs increase, or at least don't decline, and the truth of the tax cut, that it won't strengthen the economy, pans out? What will our debt be then? It hurts my brain to even think of that many zero's.
This administration seems to view the prefixes on "-illion" as arbitrary monoliths that don't have implications in the real world. We simply can't handle deficits that have more zero's than the Japanese Imperial Navy Air Force. It will only get worse, and the predictions should reflect that.
I had dinner with the next President of the United States today. Well, not really dinner – he quickly downed a bowl of clam chowder and a crab cake and I hung on his every word while sipping my water. But nevertheless, I had him as a captive audience for a half hour along with two of my fellow volunteers. We covered a variety of topics and through our discussion I saw very clearly the devotion that this man has for his country. It wasn’t an artificial or fake emotion – it was clear that he has a deep and profound love for America that I think many people never begin to experience or understand.
In the course of our discussion, he spoke of his love for grassroots campaigning. He spoke about how well people can respond when they see their candidate face-to-face and the impact that this style of campaigning can have on a person’s connection to their leaders. He seemed a bit disappointed that America has come to a point where cynicism and dishonesty have corrupted the good intentions of politicians who sought what was best for the people of America.
He emphasized how the opinions of Americans are truly unique and their own. He told us a story about one of his previous campaigns and how he always loved to get out into the community and hear what his constituents had to say. What a novel concept, huh?
He told the story like this (I’m paraphrasing):
“Just a few years back I was campaigning for reelection and I went out to meet my constituents at their homes, door-to-door, just like I always had. I came to this one man’s house and I knocked on the door, he answered and recognized me, greeted me kindly and said, ‘I’ve voted for you every time you’ve run before and I like you. But I’m not going to vote for you this time.’ I asked him, ‘Why not? What’s changed your mind?’ He said, ‘well, I got this letter from the NRA and they said you’re going to take my guns. So I’m not going to vote for you if you’re going to take my guns away.’ Well, I said, ‘I’m not going to take away your guns.’ ‘But this letter right here says you are.’ ‘Well the letter’s wrong.’ And I went through the various gun bills that I had helped pass – the Brady Bill, and he agreed that it was the right thing, the assault weapons ban, and he agreed with my view – and then I told him that his gun wasn’t what I was after. ‘But the letter says you’re going to take my guns,' he said again. And I thought, ‘was he listening to me at all?’ By that time I had to move on to the next house, so I left and went to knock on the next door.
"But he followed me. He kept arguing with me and I kept arguing back. We kept it up all the way down the block – he would even come into the other homes and stand there with me. By the end of the block I had him convinced and he said he would vote for me again.”
“That’s what’s great about real grassroots campaigning, you see the people who’s lives you affect and hear the issues that they feel passionate about and you go to Washington knowing why the people elected you. I wish I could do that for everyone across the country now, but obviously I can’t.”
When he said this I could see that he really did wish he could touch every America and hear their story. This story really illustrates how much this candidate cares about the opinions and lives of the people that his leadership is there to guide. He truly sees himself as a guide over the views of those who he represents and is not beholden to those who seek to distort his intentions.
He expressed frustration over the way in which conservative lobbies have managed to brainwash many Americans into fearing this or that, or not trusting the very leaders they must trust in order to make a great nation great. Conservative special interests had gained far too much ground in the public perception, he said.
He spoke of a need for liberal ideals to counter the harmful influence of groups like the NRA which can send out blatantly false letters such as the one telling his constituent that he was trying to take away the man's guns. Simple acts of misperception have taken the country down the wrong path and have led many to be cynical of those in government.
As a follow up to this though, I applauded the way he dealt with a boisterous critic who had interrupted his recent forum in Iowa by denouncing the his position on the war in Iraq, and I asked him how he managed to deal with it so well. He said that it’s simple really – you listen intently and you respect the views of those who disagree with you. He emphasized this point repeatedly. He’s a man who believes that the most important thing that a candidate can do is listen to the concerns and criticisms of those whom he disagrees with. Respect is what will make America better, not triumphant arrogance of one’s own opinions. So, at the debate when scorn was thrown at him, what was his response? “I respect your opinion and welcome your beliefs.” That’s not something you see from the Bush White House very often.
From there we turned to a more general discussion of compassion in politics. He’s repeated it many times, but it’s clear that he truly believes it when he reiterates Martin Luther King Jr.’s founding principle that, “I can’t be what I want to be until you can be what you want to be.” He’s a candidate who fully understands that the path to prosperity for some is fastest when we build the road wider for all. It’s a simple concept and one all the candidates probably subscribe to, but it’s one that is fundamentally the basis for this man’s heart and soul.
He showed his frustration with the fact that Republicans have managed to be able to call Democrats “unpatriotic.” I could tell that this really irked him and got under his skin because his mood quickly became more somber and focused. He said that it “sickened” him that Republicans were able to get away with such preposterous accusations. What he’s fighting for in his campaign, is to bring to light the patriotism of the American people - not the so-called patriotism founded on fear, but the underlying love for America that he knows is within each American. Somewhere below the skepticism and cynicism is the American spirit – the one that motivates college students to drive across the vast lands of America in the summer with their friends; the one that makes old men and small children together stand with respect at the sound of the national anthem and the sight of the American flag; the very spirit that this country was founded upon – that is the reason Dick Gephardt is running for the presidency of the United States, and that is why I support him.
He’s a man of principle and a politician who has been through the dirty, backroom sausage-making sessions that make so many people go into convulsions at the thought of politicians, but one who has come out of it with only more determination to fight for what is right and just and all that is American. I have never met someone with more love for America than Dick Gephardt. Isn’t that what we should look for in our leaders? I can't imagine a better man.
Try as he might, he won’t be able to meet each and every American as he could with his constituency in St. Louis, but rest assured knowing that with Dick Gephardt as president, the concerns and opinions of all Americans will be understood and felt. That’s what counts, and that's why Dick Gephardt should be our next President of the United States.
It's striking how poorly prepared the Bush administration has been to defend itself from criticism. This being the first real time that it has had to face tough questions, the administration's rhetoric is falling to pieces. While Bush gave his assessment that the intelligence was "darn good," Ari Fleischer, in his last day as press secretary forgot that he still has to provide real answers when asked real questions. Fleischer tried to brush off the scandal by distancing the administration from the nuclear portion of its cause for war.
This revisionist notion that somehow this is now the core of why we went to war, a central issue in why we went to war, a fundamental underpinning of the president's decisions, is a bunch of bull." [my emphasis]
Is that what the White House calls criticism these days, a "bunch of bull"? I hope this was just a last day slip on Ari's part and not a policy for dealing with those who seek the truth. Once the leadership brushes off the people's right to know the truth, that is the day that America is in trouble. Let's hope Ari was freewheeling on his own on his last day and now outlining the Bush administration's new policy for dealing with critics.
I've been surprised by how weak the response has been from conservatives trying to defend the actions of the administration. One thing they repeatedly bring up though, is that the nuclear threat wasn't the only motivation for war. Well, yes, of course there were also the chemical and biological claims (which have yet to pan out, by the way), but from statements Bush and others made in the months leading up to the war, you'd never guess that anything more than the nuclear threat was involved.
Let me take you back to a press conference Bush hosted in conjunction with Tony Blair in September of 2002 (via Atrios):
"PRESIDENT BUSH: We just heard the Prime Minister talk about the new report. I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied -- finally denied access, a report came out of the Atomic -- the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need." [emphasis added]
Steve Gilliard at Daily Kos has the latest on the implications of Bush's smudging of the truth. For one, it has the administration on the defensive - a position that it hates more than anything. It seems though that administration officials never considered that they would have to answer for their selective justifications for war. Stepping back from the gravity of the implications, its interesting to watch:
"[T]he Secretary of Defense, who once sounded as smug as a fraternity president on Hell Weekend, is now tripping over his words like a kid who took his dad's car drag racing while he was away."
For those of you who are confused by the details of this whole Bush-Iraq-Uranium-Africa mess, Josh Marshall has been following it for you and I think he sums up the plotline pretty well with this:
"The CIA expressed reservations about the Niger-uranium claims. The White House pressed to keep it in. Officials at the NSC, by several accounts, suggested getting around the CIA's reservations by using public statements by the British government as a figleaf -- even though the CIA believed the British assessment was incorrect.
"Whose hands are dirtier? The folks who caved in to pressure and signed off on that figleaf? Or the folks who pressed for it?"
Got that? The Brits had reports that Saddam was trying to buy yellowcake uranium from the African nation of Niger. The CIA checked it out and found it to be dubious at best. Someone (cough, Dick Cheney, cough cough, Condi Rice, cough) insisted that it still be included. The CIA, including Director George Tenet who had pulled the accusation out of an October speech, still felt that it wasn't a claim they could comfortably make. Faced with this roadblock from their lead intelligence officers, those senior officials asked if the Brits were still sticking by their claim. As long as the Brits were OK with it, even if the CIA wasn't, those top officials had a way out. And so they qualified their accusation by passing the blame in the now infamous sentence:
"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
To those with an ideological agenda, as long as someone agreed with their interpretation of how the events were to unfold, it didn't matter that the CIA said 'no.' (The facts be damned, there was going to be a war, and no CIA assessment was going to stand in the way!)
But now the coverup and deflection begins and Tenet has been told he must be the fall guy:
"Now the White House is having the president and Condi Rice first place the blame for the Niger debacle (allowing disinformation into a State of the Union address) squarely on the shoulders of George Tenet and then later having the president say he has complete confidence in Tenet, thus conveniently keeping him in the fold. In other words, no harm, no foul. I'm tempted to say that the White House wants to have its yellowcake and eat it too. But even I wouldn't stoop so low."
Josh might not stoop that low, but I will: Bush wants to have his yellowcake and eat it too. We all know how that turned out for Marie Antoinette.